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Last Updated: Sunday, 14 August 2005, 09:17 GMT 10:17 UK
Lennon musical proves poignant
By Matthew Davis
BBC News, New York

Will Chase as John Lennon and Julie Danao-Salkin as Yoko Ono in Lennon
Will Chase plays Lennon alongside Julie Danao-Salkin as Yoko Ono
Lennon: The Musical has taken a long and winding road to Broadway, but this celebration of the life of the legendary ex-Beatle has benefited from the detour.

Director Don Scardino rewrote key parts of the show after it was panned by critics in April.

What has emerged is more than a "jukebox musical" in the vein of Mamma Mia (Abba) but something that aims to illuminate the "spirit and meaning" of John Lennon's epic life.

Nine men and women of various ages and ethnic diversity take on the role of the singer from his troubled childhood in Liverpool, through Beatlemania, his love affair Yoko Ono and life in the US up to his murder near Central Park in 1980.

The focus is very much on Lennon outside the Beatles, and on his relationship with Ono.

Lennon at New York's Broadhurst Theatre
Lennon made its New York debut at Broadhurst Theatre
The show includes only one original Beatles song - The Ballad of John and Yoko - plus two cover versions performed by the Fab Four, here an all-girl band played by the cast's female Lennons.

Scardino says he chose songs from Lennon's solo catalogue because he wanted the musical storytelling to be from "John's words alone".

Lennon's words are projected onto the curtain before the musical begins. Phrases like "grow your hair", "we are all one" and "power to the people" set the scene for what follows.

The first number is New York City, and it is immediately clear which side of the Atlantic the story will take its inspiration from.

There is a whistle-stop tour of the Lennon early years, the death of his mother, the friendship with Paul McCartney that led to the Beatles.

First encounter

Most of the action takes place centre stage, with a band forming a semi-circle around the performers. Famous images from Lennon's life are projected onto a backdrop.

The musical was originally performed as a series of songs punctuated by anecdotes, with each of the nine cast members taking it in turns to play the role of Lennon.

The cast of Lennon
The show features nine cast members and a 10-piece band
In the latest version one actor - Will Chase - plays the lead "Lennon", narrating the story of his life, which seems to be a big improvement.

The show only really gets going when Lennon meets Ono, in a scene depicting their first encounter at the Indica art gallery in London.

Much of the rest of the musical is their love story - it depicts their bed-in for peace, Lennon's infidelity, his break-up with Ono, the year-long "lost weekend", when they were apart and he lived in LA, and their eventual reconciliation and family life.

All these events are also part of what the director sees as Lennon's journey of self-discovery.

The most poignant moment comes just before the final song and suggests Lennon's long struggle to find his identity was at an end, just as his life was.

Mykal Kvenberg
Whatever they have done to it has worked
Mykal Kvenberg
A New York police officer called to attend the singer's shooting on Manhattan's Upper West Side asks him if he is conscious of who he is. "Yeah," is the answer, Lennon's last word.

The show's finale is, of course, Imagine, probably Lennon's most famous song. On the last chorus the curtain falls and footage of John and Yoko singing by his white piano brings it to a close.

A Lennon musical with hardly a Beatles song in earshot, with nine people playing the lead - it sounds like just the sort of concept of which the singer himself would have approved.

The draw for many people, however, will simply be the chance to hear his music live.

Theatre-goer Mykal Kvenberg said he had been impressed.

"I had heard all the rumours that this was a bad production, but whatever they have done to it has worked," he told the BBC News website.

Charles Mitchell and Crystal Fainbain
It was a really good portrait of his life
Charles Mitchell
Charles Mitchell and Crystal Fainbain said they were not die-hard Lennon fans, but "liked the Beatles".

"It was a great performance," said Mr Mitchell. "It was a really good portrait of his life."

Shelley Germeaux, on Beatles fan site Daytrippin', writes that "the lack of Beatles music in a John Lennon musical, seems like blasphemy".

And she objects to the "complete erasure from the record" of Ono's love rival May Pang, John's personal assistant for three years who lived with him during the "lost weekend" and then continued to spend time with him until his death.

But she adds: "Despite the controversy, I would love to see the musical... just to honour the spirit of John Lennon's life and be there while his music is being performed."

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